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  • Writer's pictureSara Hurand

A Life Half Full; A Birthday Letter

Today is May 1, my birthday. Why do we call a birthday a birth day instead of a life day? Isn’t a birthday really an aging day that marks an additive year in the measure of life? A life day is an opportunity to reflect on the year that was, face what is, and auspiciously (or with dread) look to another 365 days ahead.

Calling it a birthday implies an emphasis on birth. I don't remember my birth but surely my parents do, so thanks Mom and Dad! And thanks especially to my Mom for birthing me. We celebrated Josh's birthday this April 15 by unveiling his headstone at the gravesite in Michigan. It's beautiful. And sad.

You know that saying, "Looking at a glass half full?" meaning, the ability to see the good things over the bad things; the fullness rather than the emptiness? Looking at a life half full is a fitting metaphor to losing my brother weeks after his 48th birthday. While Josh loved his life and lived it to the fullest, arguably a complete life, it still feels like half a life. He really loved life and wanted to live as many more years as possible. So even looking at his as a life half full, feels half empty.

Me and Josh, about a year ago

As I face the year ahead, I feel half empty, even more. My optimistic nature has been no match for grief. This "life day", the measure of life in year, feels pretty sticky and gooey. A bit like cake and not the tasty kind. I have a life-day so close to Josh's death-day. Reflecting back, the days leading up to Josh's death were kind of a party. He greatly enjoyed being with friends and family, even joking, "It's like my shiva (week long gathering after death), but I get to attend!" Even my Mom, whose baby she birthed was dying, had some laughs. Death felt like an inconvenience to his otherwise sincere enjoyment of life. There was a celebratory feeling that we weren't quite sure was ok, but Josh kept us moving forward, and smiling.

"Living Shiva" April, 2021

In the hospital, DYING and still joking

Looking snappy for his farewell dinner party, 2021, days before he died.

There is no cure for grief. No fixing it. I can only count one lesson learned so far in these approximate 365 days, one "candle on the cake", so to speak, that I must just face the pain for what it is. Give the loss and pain the time and space it takes even if it proves immeasurable. Perhaps even infinite. A grief year is a blip in the universe I have shuttled to. While a birthday is an annual culturally reinforced trip around the sun, a death-day feels like a massive meteor strike. I'm trying to climb out of a crater. So for my birthday this year I simply wish for courage to do this. The courage to celebrate, like my brother would.

Surely it was due to Josh's unique joie de vivre that his dying days were as strange and wonderful as they were. I suppose its a wish for everyone to have peace and love and perhaps even fun on their death-day, whatever it means to them. What it means to me right now, is that Josh did not just see the glass half full. He swam in the fullness and grieved the emptiness too. Really, Josh just held the whole glass with strength, the beauty and pain together.

So on Friday, May 6 let's celebrate my dear friend Julie's wonderful birthday (she was SO SAD Josh died on her birthday, but I am super grateful that day is so special) and Josh's weird and wonderful death-day. Let's raise a glass. Fill it as full or as empty as you wish. Let's toast not to a glass half full or half empty but to life. A life half full.

A Birthday Letter

Two years ago, Josh wrote me a letter for my birthday. While a little embarrasing because it is SO FLATTERING, perhaps just meant for me, I'll share it here, a gift.

Dear SEH,

Over the past eight months, I started a project I had seeded long ago, to send or give one-page letters to people in my life whom I admire and have influenced me. You sister, are at the top of the list.

I could write an entire book on the subject, but with only one page, and a slim slice of time while the kids watch Coco, I will focus on a few cosas. What first comes to mind is your deep commitment to process in everything you do: your health, relationships, artistic pursuits, work, philanthropy, everything. The depth and sensitivity you bring to life enriches us all. I feel it in and around you, and within the spaces you artfully design. I’ll never forget exploring your home during those early days of treatment, feeling you in your design. I’ve never met more creative and generous person.

You don’t settle, Sara, you delve and create. Your architecture is built into your architecture. You were born with that gift, and have expanded it into every aspect of your life. And when it’s not flowing, you adjust. You emit brightness over the entire emotional spectrum. You are a light.

How deeply we have both been willing to go to absorb the blow of my diagnosis, deepen our relationship, and those around us. We grasp the possibilities and the realities together. You have remained both soft and taut through it all, managing gracefully your own grief, while holding ours. I don’t know how mom, dad or I would have persevered through this year without you.

You and I were meant to be siblings, and we are seeding the world with great things to come. I sense that the year you are entering into is going to be a big and auspicious year for you, SEH, and for both of us. We’ve earned it!

So here is a big loving hug of gratitude and appreciation on this your 45th birthday. My dream is to sit and celebrate under the trees we have seeded, reminiscing of the year that changed everything for the better.

Love, ~Jemal

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